LUTCHER — A Christmas Eve shooting outside a bar in Lutcher left two men dead and two wounded, one of them a 15-year-old boy, the St. James Parish sheriff said Tuesday.
The shooting took place near the Neighborhood Lounge on Main Street, where hundreds of people were gathered on Christmas Eve following the bonfires along the Mississippi River levee, Sheriff Willy Martin Jr. said during a news conference at the scene Tuesday afternoon.
"We all ought to be rejoicing and singing 'Joy to the World,' and here we are on a sad day dealing with crimes like this," Martin said.
The two deceased victims were cousins. One of them was a college football player.
No motive or suspects had been uncovered as of Tuesday afternoon, but investigators believe the shooting may be related to a rift between young men in the communities of Lutcher and Convent, Martin said.
“We don’t know what aggravated the situation that night where guns started getting brandished and shots fired,” Martin said.
The Sheriff’s Office is asking anyone with information about the crime to come forward.
Martin said officers dispatched to the area at 11:29 p.m found a "hectic scene" at 2176 Main St.
First, officers found one man was lying unresponsive with gunshot wounds by the railroad tracks across the street from the bar. Next, they saw another man lying shot and unresponsive by a building next door, Martin said.
“As we were securing the scene, we heard more shots into the neighborhood (behind the bar) and we started getting calls shortly after that that we had a victim at a local hospital and then a second victim at a local hospital,” Martin said.
Martin said people started running in different directions, and officers were unable to figure out exactly who was involved.
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One of the victims, Thaddeus Watis Jr., 20, of Convent, died at the scene. A second man, Dedrick Paul Green Jr., 23, also of Convent, was taken to an area hospital but was pronounced dead as he arrived, Martin said.
Two others also taken to the hospital, the 15-year-old from Lutcher and Jerrell Moody, 25, of Vacherie, Martin said.
Sid Berthelot, chief deputy for the Sheriff’s Office, said Tuesday evening the 15-year-old was released from the hospital and is recovering at home.
Martin said some of the victims could have been “innocent bystanders.”
In an interview at her home Tuesday afternoon, Watis’ mother, Lashana Jones, described her son as a humble and quiet person who had bought gifts for everyone this Christmas.
He was home on holiday break from Arkansas Baptist, a college in Little Rock where he was playing as a defensive back on the football team. Watis also played football at Lutcher High School.
"My proudest moment was moving him into his dorm," said his father, Thaddeus Watis Sr.
“He was going to make something of himself,” Jones added.
Watis Jr. had joined his family for a Christmas Eve dinner of gumbo, fettuccine and meatballs before taking off with his cousins, Green among them, to see the bonfires along the Mississippi River, she said.
Jones said they stopped at the Neighborhood afterwards.
She described her son as someone who tried to stay out of the fray among rivals in Lutcher and Convent.
“He wasn’t one to engage in that kind of stuff,” she said.
Watis and Green, cousins, were “best of friends,” Jones said.
The sheriff said no witnesses have yet come forward. Officers recovered a handgun and rifle from the scene, Martin said.
The sheriff also said he is concerned about an increase in the number of guns on the street that are "in the wrong hands."
"We've been concerned about the level of the guns we've been noticing and shots fired, calls for service where shots were fired," he said.
He said the Sheriff's Office was previously aware of issues among the groups from Lutcher and Convent but had not responded to anything "to this degree."
The Neighborhood was also the scene of a shooting on Christmas Day in 2008 when five people were injured.
Lutcher and Gramercy police officers also responded to the scene.
“We certainly had a lot of people out here. We certainly believed there are a lot of people in this community who know what happened,” Martin said. “We are asking them to come forward and help us.”
Sheriff's detectives are asking anyone who may have information to call CrimeStoppers at 1 (877) 903-STOP.
CrimeStoppers will pay up to $5,000 regarding information leading to an arrest. Individuals submitting tips can remain anonymous.